Today is World Wildlife Day, a chance for us to celebrate diverse and wonderful wildlife all over the world. And here in New Zealand we have a lot of unique wildlife to celebrate.
We asked Te Papa staff to nominate their favourite species so that you can join in our wildlife celebration – and find out what gets our staff excited and enthusiastic about New Zealand’s native flora and fauna.
Hannah Newport-Watson, Editor
The morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae) is a favourite species of mine, because of their incredibly distinctive call. I remember hearing it when I was a kid, camping or out in the garden at night, and it makes me feel like I’m up past bedtime and gives me a little shiver. This excellent photograph by Laurence Aberhart is a bit spooky because the birds peer at you, and they really look alive. The photo was also used on the cover of a great book of poems by Kate Camp, which is another reason I like it.
Alan Tennyson, Curator Vertebrates
The Chatham Island taiko is a super-rare and endangered seabird that was only rediscovered in 1978. It numbers less than 200 but probably once occurred in the millions. Like many island birds, it faces an uphill battle against introduced predators, particularly cats and rats, but taiko numbers are now slowly recovering thanks to the efforts of many people.
See Alan Tennyson on the next Science Live Te Papa, where you can discover more about Te Papa’s exhibition to Snares Islands.
Phil Sirvid, Collection Manager Sciences
A cousin to the tarantulas, the black tunnelweb spider is one of New Zealand’s biggest spiders by weight. These spiders may look large and fearsome, but courtship consists of a surprisingly gentle embrace - assuming that the spiders recognise each other as potential mates rather than lunch! This species has the distinction of being one of the first spiders to be described from New Zealand and provided much of the inspiration for Shelob in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Return of the King’.
Phil is too modest to mention this, but you can find out more about his work with Weta on The Hobbit in this New York Times article. The tiny Haplinis morainicola inspired the scary Mirkwood spiders in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Leon Perrie, Curator Botany
I don’t have a favourite species, but I’m always pleased to learn/see plants and animals that are new to me. I’m starting to learn a few lichens, one of which is Stereocaulon: photo observation on NatureWatch. It seems to be widespread and common, and fairly distinctive, so look out for it on banks and other open habitats.
Antony Kusabs, Collection Manager Sciences
I’d probably go for kereru, because I find their noisy flight and soft cooing a very welcoming sound in the bush, but mainly because it’s large gape and ability to fly great distances make it the single most important disperser of some of our large forest canopy conifer and broadleaf species. Notably miro, taraire and tawa.
I’d also pick the plant Cook’s scurvy grass, Lepidium limenophylax from the south-west titi islands, Snares and Auckland Islands. I like this plant because it occupies some of the most challenging habitat in New Zealand, the exposed cliff tops of islands in the latitude range commonly known as the roaring forties. And it still manages to look lush and healthy.
Anthony is also taking part in Science Live: Expedition Snares, which may feature an appearance from the mysteriously named Cook’s scurvy grass.
Scott Ogilvie, Senior Educator
Kea are one of the birds I teach students about in our Unique NZ education programme. I love their endless curiosity and the intelligence they display to solve problems and discover new things…even if it is what is inside your tramping pack!
Jennifer Dalen, Registrar Science Collections
There are so many interesting species of marine algae (seaweed) in New Zealand, it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Red seaweeds are beautiful and Nancy Adam’s watercolours of them are just as lovely!
Gwynn Compton, Social Media Advisor
More than any other native bird, the swamp harrier probably suffers from misidentification with people thinking it’s the kārearea (New Zealand falcon) when they spy one without realising what they’ve actually seen is the harrier. I used to love running around Martinborough and figuring out where the harriers were hunting by watching as the sparrows and blackbirds would flee from vineyard to vineyard ahead of a harrier or two soaring on thermals above them. They’re also far larger up close than I anticipated, as I once had one take flight in front of my car on a country back road when I disturbed it enjoying some freshly hit rabbit. Its wingspan seemed to take up the entire width of my windscreen as we narrowly avoided each other.
Lara Shepherd, Post-Doctoral Researcher
Alseuosmia pusilla is a fascinating small New Zealand shrub that appears to mimic the unrelated pepper tree or horopito (Pseudowintera colorata). It is thought that by imitating the leaves of the unpalatable pepper tree leaves the tasty leaves of Alseuosmia pusilla gain protection from browsing animals.
Leon Perrie’s blog Disguised in the bush – a plant mimic has more information about Alseuosmia pusilla.
Sarah Jamieson, Natural Environment Technician
I think my current favourite species is the laysan albatross. I have been reading up on them for The Seven Mysteries of the Sea, the variety show Te Papa and Kinship are putting on to help celebrate Sea Week. Female Laysans are absolutely amazing for many reasons. For example, the oldest known breeding bird is a 62 year old Laysan named Wisdom and in some populations there are shortages of adult males, so pairs of females band together to raise a family. Talk about sisters doing it for themselves!
What’s your favourite species? Let us know in the comments below, and join in with our celebration of World Wildlife Day.